Friday, June 30, 2006

Nerves jingling once more

Is there ever a game you can look forward to as an Italy fan? On paper the Ukraine are about the most straightforward opposition in the quarter finals possible. In reality, we all know, it will never be easy. Wouldn't it be great to be three goals to the good by halftime? Dream on.

The toughest job is for Andrea Barzagli to slot in at the centre of the defence, especially with Sheva in the opposition. Still, hopefully Cannavaro - my man of the tournament so far - can give the boy some guidance.

It would certainly be nice to play 11 against 11 too. The worry of supensions is great with Gattuso, Zambrotta and Grosso all on yellow cards. Still, the first thing is to get the win and then bring on Argentina or Germany. I'm getting SO nervous and also SO sick of hearing how lucky we have been. A convincing win would be a truly wonderful thing. But I'll settle for 1-0 with a goal off Inzaghi's ass...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Quarter-finals, the pundit's guide...

As we reach the last eight of the World Cup here's your guide to the sporting stereotypes going head to head in the closing stages.

Dour Efficiency v Sneaky South Americans
Organised Former Soviets v Cynical Cheating Divers
Brave Lionhearts v Stylish Chokers
Samba Football v End Of An Era

Looking forward to it already...

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's Totti time!

There is pain, there is suffering and then there is watching Italy in the World Cup. It all started off so promisingly against Australia. We were passing it nicely, creating chances and, but for a bit of wonky shooting and a couple of good saves, we should have been ahead at half time. The opposition was without doubt the weakest we have faced so far but, just the same, things looked good.

Then up popped Medina Cantalejo or whatever his name is. Out of nothing he decided to send Materazzi off for what looked only a yellow card foul. I'm not known for defending big Marco but he had had a great game up to then and Zambrotta was on his shoulder to cover so he was clearly not the last man. All that didn't matter of course, and suddenly life got difficult.

If bringing on Iaquinta for Gilardino at half time made little sense before that it made even less after it. To compound the problem, Luca Toni made way for Barzagli in a move that handed the initiative to the Aussies. Iaquinta was incapable of holding the ball up, Del Piero looked exhausted so only Gattuso and, to a lesser extent, Perrotta held the keys to our retaining possession with Pirlo struggling to get on the ball.

The defence held firm and gave away few chances but too often long, hopeful balls ended up at the feet of the Australians. Luckily enough, they didn't have much clue what to do with it.

Then, just when it looked like extra time for sure, old Grosso boy gave a little shimmy to get past a man. Then he dribbled another and from the byeline he dinked past Lucas Neill. Lying on the ground in front of him, the Palermo man went over him and won the penalty. Some have said it was harsh but to me if you block a run, no matter with what part of your body, it's a foul. Ask Paul Lambert on Jorg Albertz about that one - the only man to give away a penalty while being knocked unconscious!

In that situation, deep into injury time, it takes a great player to score a penalty. Make no mistake about that. It seemed to take an age to take the kick and all the time millions of Italians were getting more and more edgy but, thankfully, not the man that mattered. It was just like he was back in the Olimpico with his faithful fans willing him to score.

I would love that to be the moment that kickstarts Totti's World Cup and finally starts to silence the global audience that still thinks he is all about petulance and spitting. If big Toni boy could get a goal soon too we could really have something special. With Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro and Gattuso looking so determined we have a core of a side with a real desire to win.

So we are on to the quarter finals and, all the more sweetly, at the expense of Guus Hiddink. The irony of hearing him moan about refereeing decisions going against him will not have been lost on a lot of people. Remember four years ago Guus? Remember Byron Moreno? We do...

There's a team to be rebuilt for the next round once more. No Materazzi, Nesta a doubt, and Gattuso, Grosso and Zambrotta all one caution away from missing the next match. Lippi seems an edgy man and some of his decisions have been questionable. But he has got us this far, so let's keep the faith and hope we can make one more step come Friday night...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Buongiorno Sport!

Ci siamo. After a less than sparkling but less than awful performance against the Czech Republic we are through on top of the group with a tie against the Aussies in the last 16. There were good and bad parts to the game on Thursday but the biggest laugh, I admit, was Materazzi getting his goal.

In my house, and probably houses around Italy, his introduction for Nesta prompted forlorn cries. We might as well go home now - that was the logic. He'll give away a penalty or get sent off. Instead, he was a candidate for man of the match. And later, as Martino so sagely points out elsewhere, the Pippo Must Go Campaign run here proved to be extremely appropriate.

I thought against ten men we were rarely troubled. Gattuso worked hard, Pirlo got a bit more room and Totti needs a goal or something to get him back to match sharpness. I think Fabio Cannavaro has been my man of the tournament so far, he has blocked shots, anticipated the play and generally done everything asked of him brilliantly. The back line looks at its most solid with Zambo, Grosso, him and Nesta. Buffon was also immense, but we have come to expect that. Hope he's had a wee bet on Italy to win the competition.

Camoranesi was better but still frustrating and Gila pretty anonymous. Perrotta and Barone were pretty steady. I wasnt happy at seeing Toni left out but the ends justify the means.

Now its on to Australia on Monday. The draw has certainly opened up for us but I'm not going to be drawn into that most English pastime of plotting a path to the final. The Aussies are a banana-skin fixture as they are "just happy to be there" while we are expected to win. It sounds like Nesta will miss out which is another worry - big Marco can't play that well again can he? Still, let them stick to cricket and rugby, I say, and let us move on stealthily into the quarter finals. Otherwise I'll be crying in my XXXX.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

To believe or not to believe...

They say the Americans wanted a war on Saturday night and that was certainly how the game ended up. Apart from De Rossi's stupidity I thought we were more sinned against than sinning with our players being pretty much battered from the first whistle. No wonder they ended up with nine men. Unfortunately, we couldn't push on for a winner after Zac's blunder at the back. Now it sets up a horrible Thursday afternoon.

It will be a typical Italy-watching day. Win and we win the group, draw and we still go through, lose and we could still sneak it if USA beat Ghana. Best to concentrate on our own match, of course. The Czechs will be hit hard by the loss of Koller, Ujfalusi and more. Gattuso should make up for the absence of De Rossi. Above all, what would be nice to see is some decent football. I'd hate to watch the boys go out in a World Cup first round - never seen that in my lifetime!

Hope Toni gets a goal to start the ball rolling for him. And hope Nedved doesn't start tumbling all around the pitch. Ragazzi, non deludete!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

First test passed

On the whole the first game against Ghana was a successful one for Italy, not only in terms of result. The defence was solid - with the exception of Grosso who did look like a giraffe on ice from time to time. The midfield was classy - especially when Pirlo got a bit of space to work. Up front big Toni was unlucky not to get his goal and Gila provided decent support.

The biggest disappointment was the quality of the refereeing. How on earth did the Azzurri end up with three bookings when they were kicked, elbowed and shoved around the park all night. I have no gripe with the yellow cards for De Rossi, Camoranesi (no surprise) and Iaquinta but the same rule was not used for Ghana. The fouls on Iaquinta, Totti and Toni (regularly) were awful. I hope those bookings don't cost us later on.

Still, three points are three points and another win over the USA would put the boys in blue in pole position before the final game with the Czechs who looked pretty good.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Keep an ear out

The World Cup kicks off in half an hour with Germany taking on Costa Rica. Amazing to think how no German players now play in Serie A when 20 years ago they were seen as a guarantee of quality. Big Jurgy Klinsmann will be the only tenuous connection with Italy really.

And talking of tenuous connections we always like to give a prize out for the most ridiculous mention of England in connection to a game where they are not playing. Examples of the kind of thing we are looking for are "He's the Ecuadorian Wayne Rooney, you know", "Germany, of course, still haunted by THAT final 40 years ago" and "Zurawski plays in Scotland which, as we all know, is just across the border from England".

I look forward to reading your submissions. Forza Azzurri!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

What have we learned?

As I sit watching Torino fight to get into the Serie B play-off final, I muse over the friendlies of the last few days and how Italy's build-up is going for Germany. I find myself caught in a halfway house between optimism and pessimism. I never expected Italy to sparkle in matches so close to the World Cup and, to be honest, I wouldn't have wanted them to. It's a bit of a waste of time playing great before the tournament proper starts.

I admit, I was worried by the performance of Zaccardo against Switzerland who looked out of his depth. The same could be said for Iaquinta but I have never thought he was really worthy of the Nazionale. And as for Materazzi, well, enough said.

It was a good workout for Totti who looked to be heading in the right direction but I am worried about Pirlo. His form has dipped a lot and he is vital to our team play. Best players looked to me to be Cannavaro (who was in outstanding form) and probably De Rossi (ready to battle hard). A strike force of Gilardino and Toni looks powerful. The first choice defence is solid. It's a question of hitting form now.

With just a few days to go, everything still has to click into place but we don't look too bad. Be nice to win the group, then the draw opens up for us. But I can't believe old Italia will let us have it so easy...